Idol Chatter

youngatheartpic.jpgShe’s sassy and flirtatious, vivacious and mischievous. I’m not writing about Hollywood’s next ingénue du jour, I’m actually referring to 92-year old Eileen Hall, one of the most captivating members of ‘”Young@Heart,” a new film from Fox Searchlight about a New England senior citizens chorus of the same name that covers songs by everyone from James Brown and Prince to Sonic Youth and The Clash.
What I had initially feared would be a one-note joke, that of watching seventy-, eighty-, and ninety-something retirees struggling to learn and perform modern, mostly hip and kinetic, pop standards obviously beyond their generation’s grasp, ended up being a wonderful testament to the human spirit. Whether we’re talking one’s lifelong relationship to religion, spirituality, or just being part of something bigger than one’s self, the tell-it-like-it-is crooners of Young@Heart have much to teach us about faith, devotion and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of community.
This 24-person troupe (with its ever-changing roster) has apparently been entertaining audiences for the past 25 years and with this documentary’s arrival in theaters, the Young@Heart members may reach mass audiences beyond their wildest dreams. I’d like to think that any resultant fame they achieve will single-handedly counterbalance the charges of ageism levied against Hollywood for, oh, let’s say the last fifty years.

What separates the premise behind this film from a Saturday Night Live skit-cum-movie that overstays its comedic welcome is the filmmaker’s intimate focus on a handful of chorus members over a seven-week period of filming in the spring of 2006. There’s plenty of pathos and humor to keep the film moving forward, never once relying on a cheap laugh or emotional manipulation for the sake of entertainment.
I give kudos to documentarian Stephen Walker for digging into the lives of these regular, could-be-your-grandparents performers. Although their vocal skills would never land them on “American Idol,” the heart and emotion they put behind their songs would woo even Simon Cowell. I, myself, was caught off-guard at the emotional impact of the ensemble’s performance at a local prison after one particularly rough morning and the final concert hall show where the wonderful and hilarious Fred Knittle showed a completely vulnerable side with his solo rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” among many other touching sequences.
Regardless of how “Young@Heart” may be portrayed in the press for its yuk-yuk one-liners, it is ultimately the story of hope. Of sacrifice. Of acknowledging one’s part to play in a bigger whole…even if it’s only a senior citizens’ take on modern rock music. Perhaps “God” truly is in the details.

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